Well, as I find myself saying a little too often these days, shit.
I posted a piece here at the Daily a few years ago about the difficulties of writing later in life, when we’re bogged down, when that space once filled with writing fills itself instead with kids and spouses and jobs—it’s hard, writing, but not impossible. One essay a year, I think I said, should be doable. Well, shit.
I managed to snap together one essay this year—a good one, I think—intended for this space right here—took me four months—and it’s good! I think—on themes of friendship and family and suicide—it’s good—did I mention…?—hinged on Marguerite Duras’ recipe for Leek Soup—good stuff. Alas, it is not here.
Having finished the essay, I realized I needed to show it to my friend’s family—my friend being the man who killed himself—before putting the thing online. I needed their OK. I dawdled on it for a week, because this shit is truly hard, and then—there is Donald Drumpf, and there is Aleppo, and there are the ongoing tragedies that stack up right here at home—my friend’s brother’s house fucking burned down. Cause unknown, but the fire started in his 3-year-old daughter’s bedroom, maybe a shorted nightlight? No one knows. They’re all fine, relatively speaking, but I sense the time is not right for dragging anything else back into the mix. So,
I’m here instead with only this:
I was introduced to Duras’ Leek Soup back in grad school. I felt that instinctual pull, drawn to those calm, cool sentences, that lull, and that SNAP there at the end. Never really knew what it meant, but had a sense that it meant something—so I carried a photocopy of the essay around for years, would read it sometimes when I had a few minutes, when I needed something to chew on. Eventually something did strike me—not it's true meaning, necessarily, or whatever—but the meaning I was able to instill in Duras’ essay, it finally came back out and bit me.
Here I am, years & years later, and that something finally made its way into an essay—I made some sense of it, for myself at least, in the context of so much else. And that’s the way of this business. We hang on to things. Carry them. Court them. Someday, sometimes they help us make sense of things. Help us move forward. Ideally, that’s how it works.
If I have learned anything from this essaying lifestyle it is that actually publishing what you write doesn’t really mean anything. I mean, it does—it matters in the CV sense, which is important, and in the reducing of the gaps between us, which is a lovely way of putting it, and which is more important—but it really is the act of writing itself that helps us puzzle this life together. Even if it takes years & years.
This last year I’ve been working in the ER of a local hospital. Seems like a full third of our patients are elderly, coming to us after falling, or with medication issues, complications of dementia, stroke. Aging. A woman came in with her mother last night, the mother coming from hospice, and the daughter was crying because it had been her day to visit her mom, but she’d put it off until after dinner, and then that afternoon her mom had suffered some complications and someone had called EMS and then there she was, the daughter, trying to figure out if hospice insurance would cover these “life-saving” procedures, and she felt guilty even thinking about that, but her mother had wanted to be put on hospice, and EMS should never have been called in the first place, but they were, and her mother’s either dying or this is just some regular infection…? And she didn't know what to do.
We were talking in the hallway and I found her a chair, got her some water. She was still crying, but was calmer. The insurance people called her back. She answered, gave me a nod, and walked down the hallway.
Then I went in the room and inserted a catheter into her mother’s urethra.
Later, over holiday drinks, someone will ask to hear about the most bizarre thing I’ve seen at work lately. They’ll probably be looking to hear about a knife-in-the-eye, or something crazy—but I’ll tell them about this. At least I’ll try to. I’ll try to explain how surreal my job is sometimes, how incredibly dehumanizing, and yet so human. But I’ll be two, maybe three beers in, and won’t be able to pull it off.
I won’t be able to convey what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, but that’s fine. Because I haven’t made sense of it yet myself.
I’ll just carry it around for a while.
I’ll just carry it around for a while.
This time next year, maybe I’ll have something for you.
Craig Reinbold is co-editor of How We Speak to One Another: An Essay Daily Reader (Coffee House Press, 2017), and curates this site's Int'l Essayist series, the latest installment of which features Rúnar Vignisson on the Icelandic art of writing obituaries.